If I told you that 98% of all degenerative disease is caused by stress you wouldn't think for a second that it could be a good thing, right? Especially when you consider that over 65% of us regularly experience physical and psychological stress, often longing for a "stress free life."
The NHS definition of stress is "the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure, and pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope." - This is simply out of touch with what is really going on and misleading. STRESS CAN BE A GOOD THING!!
Let us take a second and remember that oaks grow strong in opposing winds and diamonds are made under pressure! The sentiment for our own lives is the same, how we manage stress ultimately determines whether it plays to our determinant or our success.
As Friedrich Nietzche famously proposed, "That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger." I would add a caveat of moderation to this but you get the point, stress is one such threat that harnessed correctly can indeed make us stronger and the key to thriving rather than merely surviving - our mindset surrounding what stress means to us! With the NHS and Google search results promoting the word stress so heavily with negative connotations, is it any wonder we feel so "stressed" all the time!
People who believe that stress improves performance, productivity, learning, well-being and personal growth have a "stress is enhancing" mindset; whereas those who think that it impairs these functions possess a "stress is debilitating" mindset." The stress mindset you find yourself in influences the impact of stress as much as other variables such as the severity of the stressor (event or thing stressing you) or your capacity to cope.
Research of over 7,000 men and women has revealed that "stress about stress" is a serious threat to our wellbeing, what I call "secondary stress." Those participants that believed stress affected their health "a lot" or "extremely" were 49% more likely than other participants to have a health decline due to the same stress. Only participants who reported that stress affected them "a lot" were at increased risk of coronary heart disease, implying that stress can be magnified profoundly in our own minds.
So what is there to gain from a better perspective on stress?
1) Stress saves our life more often than we may think and it actually boosts immune system. When we respond to a stressor hormones are released that fight off infections and disease and aid in wound healing. Without our stress response, we would be far less resilient.
2) Short lived acute stress primes the brain for improved performance. Most notably sharpening our memory! Brief stressful events stimulate new nerve cell activity in the brain that essentially build brain muscle so that the next time that stressor occurs, you'll be better prepared.
3) Stress gets you fired up in the morning and pushes your capability. A burst of cortisol (stress hormone) peaking at around 8am is what gets you functional in the morning regardless of the season. Stress pushes you to your level of optimal alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance. Intermittent stressful events are what keeps the brain more alert and you perform better when you are alert.
4) Stressors add depth to life. Whether it be taking a new job, asking someone out on a first date or tackling a phobia, tackling challenging and thus stressful events is what makes life worth living. It is stressful events that mostly give us content to our lives. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, they are all celebrations of joy but they are also inherently stressful. Your perspective on this "stress" is what determines the impact of the event on your wellbeing long term.
5) Stress is where extraordinary results are achieved. Without stress life would be easy but it would also be unrewarding. Think about exam results time, your appraisal at work and the last sporting cup final you watched, seriously stressful times but also times where the most elation can be felt as a result. Especially events with deadlines and timescales involved, these tend to inspire the very optimum performance and see us humans stretching our capability to the maximum. This is where risk taking enters the scene and we know that risk and acceptance of failure are critical in the journey to profound success in any field.
Stress can be something that makes you better, but it is a question of how much, how long and how you interpret or perceive it. One capability at managing stress is what differentiates individuals in their accession toward success and proactively speaking to a suitably trained and experienced professional can help massively in keeping you on the right tracks!
Remember: "The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there" (Vince Lombardi).
Christopher T. S. Harvey - Founder of www.harvey-sinclair.com - "The Executive Wellbeing Experts."